The largest winemaker in Spain is the Catalan cava house, Freixenet. It owns bodegas in many regions and exports to 140 countries. Total sales are half a billion euros. However, control of what was once a family business has just passed into the hands of the German drinks multinational Henkell, for a sum rumoured to be around 300 million. The story behind what over the years developed from a family spat into a battle - shows how internecine differences can threaten the base of any business.
Founded in 1889 by the Ferrer and Salas families, Freixenet was initially an unremarkable local bodega, but when cava began to be produced in Cataluña early in the last century, the firm produced its famous Carta Nevada in 1941. Spanish New Year's Eve TV would not be the same without Freixenet's iconic midnight spot that has over the years featured Liza Minnelli, Raquel Welch, Paul Newman, Sharon Stone and Shakira, to name but a few.
Nevertheless in the early years of this century cracks appeared in the facade, and the three shareholding families, the Ferrer Noguer (42%), Hevia Ferrer (29%) and Bonet Ferrer(29%) started to fall out. The board appointment of ten new family members in 2010 was unhelpful, but it was probably the poor financial results over a decade that were the underlying issue. The Hevia family wanted out but the price they set was too high for the others, so negotiations started with third-party investors. Things became very bitter. The Hevias, always opponents of Catalan independence, were on record as saying they loved Spain - so the decision to sell their stake to a foreign company seems strange. Feelings ran high on the basis that if they really supported Spain they should have accepted the lower offers from the other two families that claimed they had offered their top price. To make it worse the Hevias had let it be known that if the Germans did not close he deal, there were Chinese waiting in the wings. Not a happy ending, but one that is becoming frequent in the wine business.